Back to School Self-Advocacy Tips

It is finally fall and our Bender Leadership Academy students have headed back to school. We look forward to seeing you during Disability Mentoring Day later this month and our fall Bender Student Leaders programs. As you start the school year, make a promise to yourself to be a self-advocate and an advocate for other people with disabilities. You can do this by making sure you have the tools you need to be successful in school, taking initiative, and standing up against bullying. Below are some tips to help you be a self-advocate at school.

#1: Accommodations aren’t special treatment or cheating.

Sometimes we have students who tell us that they have some teachers who are very good about providing the accommodations outlined in their individual education plan (IEP) and other teachers who refuse to provide these accommodations. If you encounter any difficulties with teachers refusing to administer your pre-approved accommodations during class, this is not your fault.

It is not okay for a teacher to tell you that you cannot have accommodations in the classroom that have already been put in place through your IEP. It is not up to them to make that decision. There are specially trained people who support this process and are responsible for making these decisions. If you encounter this issue, immediately tell your counselor, your principal, and your parents.

Don’t be afraid to speak up or feel like you are creating a problem for the teacher. It is the teacher’s responsibility to provide these accommodations. These accommodations create the best possible method for you to learn the important information being taught in class. If you don’t have the right accommodations, you may miss something important. Don’t be ashamed to tell someone. Instead, be a self-advocate and tell the right people so you can get the help you need.

#2: Leaders ask questions or get help when they don’t understand something.

Good employees tell their boss if they don’t understand instructions. Asking for more information means doing a better job. Sometimes people are afraid to ask questions because they don’t want people to think they don’t understand. Here is a secret – usually when one person doesn’t understand, there are other people who don’t understand as well. When you ask a question, you help make things better for everyone. At work, we call this initiative. Having initiative is considered a good thing in the workplace.

The same is true in the classroom. If you don’t understand a homework assignment, ask questions in class. The other thing you can do is take the teacher aside after class and tell them you need help. Try saying, “I really want to do a good job with this assignment, but I am not sure I understand. Would you mind going over the instructions again?” or “I want to make sure I do the right thing with this assignment. Is it okay for me to explain to you what I understand you want me to do so you can let me know if I missed something?”

#3: Never stay silent when someone is being bullied.

Almost every student in our programs tell us they have been bullied or witnessed bullying at school. When we stay silent when we see someone being bullied, we give the bully the power. However, when you address bullying, by speaking up, being kind to someone who is being bullied, or telling someone, then the bully isn’t the one with the power anymore.

Most times when bullying is addressed it stops – sometimes within seconds. Sometimes you can end bullying by just telling the person stop or making a joke. However, if that doesn’t work, you should walk away and tell an adult you trust about what is happening. Don’t be afraid to tell someone – even if it isn’t happening to you.

Bullies count on you keeping their secret and on you believing the horrible things they say or do are somehow your fault. When you refuse to allow them to make you feel bad and you refuse to stay silent, you take away their power.

Remember, you are awesome, and you have the power to Lead on! Visit us on Facebook or Twitter and tell us what you are doing to be a self-advocate during the 2022-2023 school year.